Authors' Spotlight

Interview with author Patrick R. F. Blakley|Author Interview

It is my pleasure to host author Patrick R. F. Blakley on my blog today. His book Drummond is available for purchase now.

What made you choose to write Drummond?

This book was something of a diary for me at first. I had this experience when I joined my high school’s marching band a year early, almost exactly as the final story explores in the book. Every so often, an old memory would pop into my head, and I’d think about how much fun it was in the band and drumline. Finally, I decided that I needed to write some of those memories down because I was scared that each of those thoughts might be the last time I’d remember them! This quickly turned into a novel where the core ideas are actual memories, and the events that didn’t actually happen are subtle winks to myself that remind me of experiences I couldn’t include. I feel relieved since everything in my brain can now be retrieved on paper, without fear of forgetting any fond memories I had in the band that first year!

How did you arrive at the title?

This is an excellent question because I wanted the title to be simple yet convey so many things! First, I wanted his name to be something that immediately showed the reader that he’s a drummer. Drummond’s name helps make it evident that he’s a drummer on the inside. Next, I wanted the title and his name to be unique. Drummond is not something most people use as a first name which makes the main character stand out in this story, almost like he doesn’t fit in with the surrounding characters. Lastly, and possibly through a bit of luck, I wanted to make a musical note make sense with the title. The dotted-quarter-note is interesting because it can appear to be an abbreviated ‘D.’ I also like the idea that in common-time (4/4 time in music), the dotted-quarter fills three-quarters of the measure. So like Drummond himself, the note symbolizes that he’s almost there. He is so close! He just needs to find it out for himself, and he’ll be fulfilled! As simple as the cover appears, there’s a lot going on before you even turn to page one!

Is it a work of fiction or nonfiction?

Drummond was fun to write and is very auto-biographical for a fiction story. Most of the events in the book did actually occur! However, some chapters are complete fabrications, although the feelings they explore are all things I felt in my years within the marching band. These are the feelings all readers will relate to, having been a musician in their past or not. That’s something I’m pretty proud of, that this book can go in two directions based on who happens to be reading it. Marching band alumni will be shaking their heads in agreement on every page, while non-musicians can tap into the emotional side of the story more. I also think this novel will resonate with readers of any age beyond the young adult genre!

Do you play drums as well?

When I began writing instructional music books, I always joked to myself that I’d rather be a musician writing books about music and really understanding the mechanisms behind the drumming and technique, than to be an author having to learn what the musician is doing and write about it with perfect grammar. I think I became adept at getting my thoughts into writing. It isn’t easy to convey some of the more technical drumming notations and strokes through three dimensions, but writing my first technical books was great practice, and they turned out well, I’d say. So yes, I absolutely do play and will never stop playing. Being a musician is who I am. I just write about it because I want to give it some sort of finality. Having my thoughts on paper is really helpful for my sanity. I can reflect on so many things without worrying I’ll forget something! I’ve already been playing drums for twenty-eight years. I’ve recently become a music judge for the New York State Field Band Conference. In fact, when I marched in the drumline, I was judged by that same conference, so it’s fitting that the sort of culmination of my music career wound up right there!

How did you get into music?

The great thing about this fictional story being based on my real-life experience is that it clearly illustrates my early music memories. In reality, I started playing drums in third grade, and I remember getting a cheap drum pad and VHS videotape to learn the basics. I practiced so much that my brother stabbed my drum pad with a pencil to break it because it was loud, and I was constantly playing it! Just like the book, though, it was more of a hobby until I joined the marching band. But those two cheap drumsticks Drummond mentions are still in my percussion studio today! Along with my first drum pad and that old VHS videotape too!

What should readers expect from this book?

I certainly think that anyone with a music background would enjoy this novel, and marching band folks might raise their heart rate when they hear that metronome fire up in several chapters! But I also think the story stands independently without needing an experienced musician to understand it. I actually wrote it in the same way that I taught music, with easy-to-understand concepts at the beginning that evolve into actual terminology as the reading progresses. While there are definite nods to musicians throughout, like flamming light switches, it won’t hurt the story if you don’t understand it. A flam can either be a drum rudiment or a new onomatopoeia depending on who holds the book! I want people to understand that nobody knows who they really are inside until they truly seek that information out. Don’t let life happen to you by accident, young readers. Forge a path if at all possible. I know, I know, it’s so much more easily said than done. But sometimes you have to look deep, and often it takes until you’re in your forties before you find it. Hell, there could be a few things in there if you look hard enough! Drummond doesn’t know who he is, the name gave him a clue, but it was up to him to seek it out and find out who he was inside. Lucky for him, he found himself in the music at age 13, but please don’t stop until you also find something within yourself!

How important is it for children to develop the habit of reading?

Obviously, I think it’s imperative for young ones to get in the habit of reading, but more importantly, I think they need to somehow learn to actually enjoy reading! The only real way to get children to enjoy reading is to make things relatable to them. I definitely try to do that with my children’s book Drummy. However, the next step is relating to a more serious young reader while still enjoying the story. Drummond accomplishes that in a few different ways. On the surface, the book is about a nervous young man trying to join a marching band, a simple story of someone who gets better at the drums. When you really get into the story, though, it becomes relatable to anyone who has ever had a crush, or was in over their head, or had parents that divorced. Sometimes reading can be an escape from reality, but the Drummond story sews in that thread of coping with reality throughout the fun sounds and drumming in the sun. The divorce thread helps ground the book, and it’s also the only thread left open at the end, symbolic of divorce in a child’s life. It’s permanent. Instead, the book tries to map an escape route for young ones dealing with divorce in their family. Maybe it helps them see a path through the darkness, or perhaps it even helps them discover something about themselves that just needed that little push to flourish. Whatever the result, the importance of reading is clear, and Drummond can be an entertainer or a liaison for young readers!

Are there any new projects underway?

My book projects tend to pop up sporadically, but I’ve always wanted to write a book about toasters! I could get into a whole song and dance about my obsession with toasters and how it was all bestowed upon me. Instead, I’ll just note that I’m a member of the Toaster Collectors Association and have a huge collection of antique toasters, parts, and accessories. If I were to ever write a book about toasters, it would have to be something like a book of recipes from simple to advanced and would all revolve around the toaster as the only appliance needed. I’m imagining delectable simple dishes like lightly toasted bread, perfect toast with butter, and burnt toast. Then all the way to advanced dishes like London broil using only a toaster, is that even possible? We may just have to find out. Stay tuned!

Patrick R. F. Blakley is a SAMMY award-winning percussionist from Syracuse, New York. He is a music judge for the New York State Field Band Conference and participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2018! Blakley has written two technical marching percussion books and a children’s book called Drummy Drum Joins Marchy Band.

The children’s book inspired his Drummond novel, which explores the question of why a drum would join the marching band in the first place. As it turns out, the drum was just a projection of his inner-self, and Drummond had to find out who he really was inside! Drummond then uses that newfound information to try to fit in and connect with his new family!

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